TRENTON- A Senate panel on Monday advanced a proposal to restore funding to New Jersey's depleted open-space program by amending the state's constitution to dedicate a portion of revenue from the corporate business tax to preserving land.

The plan drew cautious optimism from environmental groups, which agree in principle on the need to fund open-space preservation but are wary of diverting money from other eco-friendly causes.

Specifically, the amendment would dedicate 6 percent of corporate business tax revenue - about $150 million annually - to the preservation of open space, farmland, and historic sites for 30 years. It would take effect in fiscal year 2016.

It also would end the diversion of 4 percent of the same tax toward water quality programs, hazardous site cleanups, air pollution, and other environmental programs.

Some of that lost funding would be replaced by tapping into natural resource damages and fines of polluters.

The state has not dedicated stable funding to open space since voters approved $400 million in land-preservation bonds in 2009. That money has since been spent.

"We're in a crisis on open space," said Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Environment and Energy Committee. "The tank is empty."


Supporters still voiced concerns. Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, objected to using natural resource damages and fines collected from violations of environmental law to fund open-space preservation.

"These funds are unpredictable and should be used for environmental restoration projects," he said. "New Jersey has a toxic legacy. We want to make sure those funds are there to clean up those properties."

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